Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge east of Jerusalem’s Old City in East Jerusalem. It is named for the olives groves that once covered it. The mount has been used as a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years and holds approximately 150,000 graves and is predominately associated with Jewish and Christian traditions. It is one of three peaks of a mountain ridge running 3.5 km just east of Old Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. It is in area called the Valley of Josaphat. The peak to its north is Mount Scopus at 826 meters, while the peak to its south is Mount Corruption at 747 meters. The highest point on the Mount of Olives is 818 meters or 2,683 ft. The ridge acts as a watershed and its eastern side is the beginning of the Judean Desert. The ridge is mainly of sedimentary rock containing soft chalk and hard flint. The chalk can be quarried but is not of suitable strength for construction. The Mount of Olives has never been built up but rather features many man-made burial caves.
From Biblical times until the present, Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives. The desire for Jews to be buried on the Mount of Olives stems from an antiquity based Jewish tradition (Zechariah 14:4) that when the Messiah comes, the resurrection of the dead will begin here. “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You.” (Zechariah 14:1-5).
The cemetery of the southern ridge was the burial place of Jerusalem’s most important citizens in the period. There are an estimated 150,000 graves on the Mount, including tombs traditionally associated with Zechariah and Absalom. On the upper slope, the traditional Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi is situated along with notable rabbis and others from the 15th-century until now. There was a period after 1949 when it was under Jordanian occupation of the site, residents uprooted tombstones and plowed the land in the cemeteries and an estimated 38,000 tombstones were damaged in total. During this period, four roads were paved through the cemeteries, in the process destroying graves including those of famous persons. Jordan’s King Hussein permitted the construction of the Intercontinental Hotel at the summit of the Mount of Olives together with a road that cut through the cemetery which destroyed hundreds of Jewish graves, some from the First Temple Period. Graves were also demolished for parking lots and a filling station and were even used in latrines at a Jordanian Army barracks. However, following the 1967 Six Day War with the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem, its government began restoration work and re-opened the cemetery for burials. As of 2010, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is targeted regularly by vandals. Mourners have been assaulted. Notable graves that have been defaced by vandals include those of the Gerrer Rebbe and Menahem Begin. On 6 November 2010, an international watch-committee was set up by Diaspora Jews with the aim of reversing the desecration of the Jewish cemetery. Also located on the Mount of Olives is The Church of All Nations as it enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before his arrest. Other landmarks on the Mount of Olives include Yad Avshalom, the Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalene, Dominus Flevit Church, Chapel of the Ascension, Gethsemane, Mary’s Tomb, Church of the Pater Noster, the Seven ARches Hotel, Orson Hyde Park, Beit Orot and at the foot of the mount is Emek Tzurim National Park and the and the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation.
The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in connection with David’s flight from Absalom. The ascent was probably on the east side of the Mount of Olives as it was considered sacred. “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain, which is on the east side of the city.” (Ezekiel 11:23). “So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went up.” (2 Samuel 15:30).
The Mount of Olives is a place that Jesus was very familiary with for to Him it was a place of rest, a place where He taught and worshipped with His disciples, a place where He wept for Jerusalem, a place where He entered Jerusalem riding a donkey, the place He went to pray (as He was accustomed) before His arrest, death and resurrection and the place He ascended to Heaven.
“Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,” (Matthew 21:1, Mark 11:1).
“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26).
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately,” (Mark 13:3).
“Then they brought him to Jesus. And they threw their own clothes on the colt, and they set Jesus on him. And as He went, many spread their clothes on the road. Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, Teacher, rebuke Your disciples. But He answered and said to them, I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:35-40).
“Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, Pray that you may not enter into temptation. And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:39-46).
“Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey.” (Acts 1:9-12).